Kosovo, still in the doldrums
Twelve years after the Declaration of Independence, there is not much to celebrate - everything stands still while Kosovo awaits recognition by enough countries to become an internationally accepted country. But Serbia is fiercely trying to prevent this. Both the EU and the US have recently shown interest in speeding up negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo so that conditions can be normalized.
The flag of the Republic of Kosova.
In the courtyards outside the mosque in the small Albanian-speaking village of Chabra, geese stagger. The sun is shining and the village is calm and silent. Today is the anniversary of independence.
The mosque in the village of Chabra, Kosovo. Flamur Veseli, villager of Chabra.
Flamur Veseli and his father has time to take care of a broken tractor. Otherwise, there is not much to do here. -We in this village live in the countryside, you have fields and animals to take care of, Flamur says and wipes his oily hands on a cloth. -I have another job, but the problem for most of us is lack of work. So many have no choice but to go abroad. Everything is due to the bad economy here, Flamur says.
The village of Chabra is located in the north of Kosovo where the majority are Serb-speaking. In all of Kosovo, around 90% is Albanian-speaking. During the 1998-99 Kosovo war, the village population, as well as the entire Albanian population of Kosovo, almost one million, were expelled to the neighbouring countries by Serbian military forces.
Chabra village was totally destroyed by Serbian forces. The villagers had to live in tents until their houses were rebuilt.
Osman Rama, village leader. Pictures above from August 1999.
After NATO bombed Serbia, a peace deal was negotiated and the villagers could return. But then all the village's houses were totally destroyed.
A helicopter flies over our heads. International forces guaranteed peace and provided a great deal of money for reconstruction in the early 2000s. But despite several attempts to negotiate, normalization to Serbia failed. The Serb-speaking population in Kosovo, supported by nationalist rhetoric by the politicians in Serbia, refused to accept the new situation.
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent but still lacks many of the opportunities an internationally recognized state has. Kosovo does not have its own currency. The EU requires visa for travel to Europe. Three girls walk on the village street to catch the bus.
- Without a visa, we cannot travel abroad. It can cost up to 150 euros and take more than a month. It affects us young people, for example, those who want to study abroad, says one of the young women.
Enver Hasani, headmaster, Chabra
-Europe's visa requirements in Kosovo are a result of several EU countries supporting Serbia's side in negotiations with Kosovo, says Enver Hasani, headmaster of the school in the village.
-If Europe now wants to help us, they could at least facilitate studies abroad by our students so that their knowledge will help us when they return. The EU visa requirement is unfair. We as a nation deserve better treatment, Hasani says.
The so-called Brussels Agreement 2013 set out a framework how Serbia and Kosovo could solve the problems.
Mitrovica, an overwhelmingly Serb populated city in the north of Kosovo. Serb flags everywhere.
Nevertheless, with the support of Russia, Serbia has long pursued an active policy to get countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo. The last years, 14 states have withdrawn their recognition, leaving Kosovo's independence now recognized only by 98 of UN:s 193 states. Serbia has also opposed the new republic gaining membership in international organizations, such as Interpol. In response, Kosovo imposed tariffs of 100 percent on Serbian goods last year. Negotiations died completely.
Agim Hasani and family members. Rakija, pear brandy, the gift.
We visit the Chabra municipal chairman Agim Hasani who offers coffee. One of his sons sought refugee in various Nordic countries for his family when the persecution was at it's worst during the 90's, and they ended up in Finland. Now they are back with their children for a visit. Their hope for a future in their home country is still alive, says daughter-in-law Lumturie Hasani.
- Well, absolutely, we would move back. Even though we have been living in Vaasa, Finland for over 20 years, we would move back. Here is our homeland... Lumturie says and continues:
- We thought that when Kosovo became independent we would move here. Then it became independent but there are some things still missing here such as good health care and schools. But in the future it will be better. We all who now live in Finland can move here, we hope.
Lumturie Hasani's father-in-law has been chairman of the municipality for more than 15 years. The municipality is under the authority of the Serbian region here in northern Kosovo. He meets the board members regularly.
-We meet and solve our local political problems, Agim Hasani, the city's president, tells of his Serbian colleagues.
-They are not yet ready to recognize Kosovo as their own country, but they are increasingly accepting the system that now exists in the Republic of Kosovo, Hasani says and coninues:
-Our village of Chabra was totally destroyed by the Serbian regime's military so my Serbian colleagues in the region gave the whole budget for the reconstruction here for four years. So it is a sign that they are sort of aware of their responsibilities.
Agim Hasani shows a bottle of pear brandy.
-This was recently given me by a Serbian colleague on our Independence Day, even though they do not even recognize us as their own country, says Hasani, the municipality chairman.
Recently, a new government was formed in Kosovo. The US has appointed a special envoy for the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue and, together with an increased interest from the EU as well, it could be a fresh start for negotiations. But Blerim Zogu, a political analyst in the capital Prishtina, is doubtful.
-If we start negotiating just because there is an international interest to start negotiating without anything concrete to negotiate, then it is meaningless, says analyst Zogu.
Chabra village, rebuilt with money from the majority Serb regional government.
-We have had a number of agreements, but the EU has not got Serbia to implement anyone of all the measures they have promised. Everything is just empty words, says Blerim Zogu.
In the village of Chabra, the young ladies are still waiting for the bus.
-I would like to visit Switzerland, Finland and some other countries, but we cannot, says one of them.
-I hardly think the situation will change soon. We have no hope anymore, says another of the young ladies.
© Lennart Berggren / Axiom Film February 2020
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